Parenting: Axis and Allies

David Murphy says a heavy duty game to play with older kids is Axis and Allies. It's fun but a big investment in time.

January 27, 2011 2:37:25 AM PST
A great father-son game is Axis and Allies, but only if you have the stamina.

Girls who enjoy history or strategy games may also like this one, too, but as with most war-related games, it seems to attract the guys first.

Axis and Allies actually comes in several different versions, published in recent years under the Avalon Hill banner, a property of Hasbro. The original came out in the early 80s, developed by designer Larry Harris. We actually have two versions, both the basic game which covers all theaters of World War II, and the Guadalcanal version. Axis and Allies games are great for older grade school and high school kids who've enjoyed strategy games like Risk and are ready for a new challenge. But neither parent nor child should take these games lightly. They involve tons of strategy as you guide extensive and intricate armies, navies and air forces toward assigned goals. The main game can last four to five hours depending on how long players care to ponder strategy and moves. In fact, a single turn can take thirty minutes or more!

History Re-visited

In each version of the game, players represent both historical sides of the World War II conflict. In the main game, as many as five players can participate, each taking up a separate nation combatant (Japan, Russia, Germany, England, or the United States). Each player then takes turns deploying infantry, tanks, air defense, munitions factories, and various types of air and water craft across a world map. Each resource has its own particular strengths and weaknesses. Battles are waged and ground is either won or lost on each ensuing turn through a series of dice throws. But luck is only a supporting player in the drama. Outcomes are heavily guided by the strategies and equipment employed into a given battleground, and victory can quickly give way to defeat from turn to turn. A player must decide how much of his or her limited resources to commit and how best to replenish lost equipment and personnel. It's easy to make mistakes.

A fun part of the game is how the game board (a map of whatever theater or theaters are involved) becomes choked with different colored tanks, infantry, ships and planes. My wife will walk by a game in progress and say, "How can you even keep all that straight?" Indeed, it gets complicated, but for a certain sort of game player, that's half the fun.

Let's Not Go Overboard

The object of Axis and Allies is not to win the war (after all, a history-based game would have a hard time awarding victory, say, to Nazi Germany). Rather, certain key territories must be taken to claim victory. That said, I have to admit that after multiple tries, I've only managed the Axis to victory once. As in life, the Allies superior ability to build and transport additional supplies almost always wins out when I'm involved.

But no matter whose side you take up, winning is not easy. In fact, the historical lesson one learns after several plays is how difficult it was for any nation to maintain a position of strength in 1942, as war planners wrestled with limited resources being stretched across a very big world. Extend too far, too soon, and you risk being unable to keep the home front secure. Remain too timid, and your opponents surge forward, capturing key cities and digging in.

Lessons Learned

One nice design feature of the game is how it forces some degree of historical accuracy. For example, a player representing Japan can try to make a run for the U.S. west coast if he or she likes, but the game makes it hard to achieve that objective without sacrificing one's home ports. Forced to utilize the limited resources at Japan's disposal and facing firsthand the difficulties in re-supplying such a far-flung navy, it becomes easy to see why Japanese troops never made it to San Francisco.

Part strategy game, part history lesson, Axis and Allies can be a great experience leading to hours of shared fun, including great post-mortem discussions once the game ends as you and your kids reveal to each other your thinking and strategies as the game unfolded. I'd recommend the basic game for older kids. It's more complicated, but I find it more fun. However, I recently introduced Guadalcanal to my 12-year-old and it was probably the better choice for a younger player. It's not as complicated and only takes a couple of hours to play. It's strictly a two-player game, however.

---David Murphy

Read more Parenting Perspective blogs by visiting the Parenting Channel on